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Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty

General Minister and President Rev. Terri Hord Owens, Rev. Lori Tapia, National Pastor for Hispanic Ministries, and Dr. Cynthia Hale, Founding Pastor, Ray of Hope Christian Church were signatories to the following statement of a group of clergy and religious leaders called The Circle of Protection.

A diverse body of Christian leaders calls on the churches and Congress to focus on the integral connection.

As leaders from diverse families of U.S. Christianity, we are called by the Spirit to work together with new urgency against the resurgence of racism and persistence of poverty in America. We see around us an increase of harmful attitudes and policies toward people of color and people in need. That painful reality and the current push for trillions of dollars in cuts to anti-poverty programs are bringing us together in a new way. While we have different positions on other questions, we are uniting on the gospel and biblical teaching on poverty and racism—feeling invited to do so by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

We believe that racism and poverty are theological issues.

The integral relationship between poverty and racism unifies us against both. They are both issues to which the gospel of Jesus Christ speaks—which also calls us to love our neighbors—without exceptions. Our unity on these issues is because they are theological issues for us, not merely political or partisan ones. These fundamentally biblical concerns challenge all of us and both the major political parties.

Racism is a sin that goes back to the founding of our nation. At its root, racism is in conflict with the opening declaration in Genesis 1, that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. Racism literally throws away the biblical principle of imago dei—the image of God in all of us with no exceptions. Racism is a sin against God and all of God’s children. Therefore, the whole counsel of God calls us to preach against the sin of racism from all of our churches’ pulpits and call for repentance.

The body of Christ is perhaps the most diverse racial community in the world. When people of color in the body of Christ suffer—while many white members of the body of Christ do not acknowledge their pain— we are violating the principle laid down in 1 Corinthians 12: that we are one body with many parts, who suffer with and honor one another. As Galatians instructs us, “there is no more Jew or Greek, bond or free, male or female, because we are all united as one in Christ (3:28).”

The historical sin of racism lingers on in America today, continuing and evolving in our social systems of economics and education, policing and criminal justice, housing and gentrification, voting rights and suppression, in our racial geography and, painfully, in the continued segregation of our churches, which adds to our own complicity. Racism is more than individual behavior, language, and overt hostility towards particular people. Racism is systematic and structural in America and harms people of color in very specific, measurable, and tangible ways.

The failure to defend the lives and dignity of people living in poverty, by individuals or governments, is also a sin against God, with 2,000 verses in the Bible clearly outlining God’s fundamental concern for people who are poor, vulnerable, and oppressed, instructing the people of God to protect and help them, and holding political leaders responsible for them. Jesus says, in Matthew 25, that how we treat the “least of these” is how we treat Christ himself.

The world and our country have made progress against poverty in recent decades. It is possible to make further progress—perhaps virtually end—hunger and extreme poverty in our time. We see the alleviation of material misery as an experience of God’s loving presence in our own time, and believe that God wants us to seize this opportunity.

To our churches: What we are doing and can do.

Most of our churches are active in helping people in need—struggling people within their congregations or in their communities. We need to do more, but many of our churches do directly help millions of people every day. Local church leaders often work to bridge the racial divides in our communities, and many are searching for authentic and specific ways to address the rise of white supremacy.

Since the God of the Bible requires social justice and charity, our churches and many of our members also work to influence public policies. Christians have a wide array of political viewpoints. But a majority of the leaders of national church bodies have spoken out repeatedly against cuts to programs that provide help and opportunity to hungry and poor people in our country and around the world. We have also spoken out against renewed expressions of white racism, ethnic nationalism, and hateful attitudes toward people of color, immigrants, refugees, Jews, and Muslims. Many of us are active in support of immigration reform, criminal justice reform, and voting rights for all.

We are deeply troubled by the budget proposals coming from Congress and the president. They outline more than $2 trillion of cuts in programs for hungry and poor people in our country and around the world. These cuts would hurt struggling people of all races, including millions of low and middle-income people who need safety-net programs at some time in their lives. The hardest hit would be African-American, Latino, and Native American communities, where the poverty rate is already high, and among people in the poorest countries in the world.

The threat of this broad assault on anti-poverty programs that support families struggling to make ends meet over the coming year is unifying us—bringing us together in a more vigorous, multiracial Christian movement to maintain a circle of protection around all people in poverty and God’s children of color in particular, who are disproportionally impacted.

To the Congress and the White House: Our united appeal for healing and reform in our nation’s politics.

We appeal to the President and Congress to work together for the common good. We especially call upon political leaders, who are also people of faith, to protect all the people in our country and worldwide who are struggling with economic deprivation and frustration, hunger and poverty, disability and disadvantage—and the racial bigotry that often contributes to inaction and hard-heartedness.

God’s love for all people moves us to reach out to people and leaders all across the political spectrum. We respect and pray for all those who are in authority – that our nation and world “may lead a quiet and peaceable life” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Conservative and liberal people, and those with differing political philosophies, may disagree on how to live up to our nation’s ideals, but our loving God calls all of us to work together for liberty and justice for all.

We appeal to all people, especially Christians, to actively work against racism and poverty—in their personal and local engagement and as advocates for public policies that foster racial equity and healing, shared prosperity, and peace in our country and worldwide. The spiritual power of a fresh, energetic, multiracial Christian movement against both racism and poverty is our prayer. So help us God.

SIGNATORIES

  • Rev. Eddy M. Alemán, Strategic Director of Leadership Development and Hispanic Ministries, Reformed Church in America
  • Rev. Dr. David Anderson, Founder/Senior Pastor, Bridgeway Community Church; President and CEO, BridgeLeader Network
  • Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director, Armenian Orthodox Church
  • Bishop Carroll Baltimore, President and CEO, Global Alliance Interfaith Network
  • Dr. Jay Barnes, President, Bethel University
  • Bishop George E. Battle, Senior Bishop, AME Zion Church
  • Rev. David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World
  • Rev. Tracy D. Blackmon, Executive Minister of Justice and Local Church Ministries, The United Church of Christ
  • Bishop Charles E. Blake, Presiding Bishop And Chief Apostle, Church of God in Christ
  • Rev. Samuel Borbon, Associate Missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministry and Program Development, Episcopal Church USA
  • Rev. Dr. Peter Borgdorff, Executive Director Emeritus, Christian Reformed Church in North America
  • Carol Bremer-Bennett, Director, World Renew USA
  • Dr. Amos Brown, Chair, Social Justice Commission, National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.
  • Bishop Rosetta Bryson, Presiding Prelate, The Reconcile Group
  • Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, Executive Director, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
  • Dr. Tony Campolo, Co-Founder, Red Letter Christians
  • Rev. Galen Carey, Vice President of Government Relations, National Association of Evangelicals
  • Mr. Patrick Carolan, Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network
  • Mr. John Carr, Director, Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, Georgetown University
  • Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
  • Dr. Fernando Cascante, Executive Director, AETH & The Justo Center
  • Rev. Noel Castellanos, President, CCDA
  • Rev. Walter Contreras, Vice President, NaLEC; Pasadena Presbyterian Church
  • Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune, Director, Ecumenical Poverty Initiative
  • The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church
  • Rev. Joshua Dubois, Founder and CEO, Values Partnerships
  • Rev. José García, Senior Advisor for Prayer and Strategic Initiatives, Bread for the World
  • Mr. Vince Gonzales, Chair, Racial and Social Justice Task Force, Churches Uniting In Christ
  • Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary Emeritus, Reformed Church in America; Chair of Board of Directors, Sojourners
  • The Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Atlanta
  • Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, Executive Director, American Baptist Home Mission Societies
  • Dr. Cynthia Hale, Founding Pastor, Ray of Hope Christian Church; Member, Disciples of Christ
  • Forest E. Harris, Sr., President, American Baptist College; Director of Black Church Studies, Vanderbilt University Divinity School
  • Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III, Chairman, The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
  • Richard B. Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament, Duke Divinity School
  • Rev. Mitchell Hescox, President and CEO, Evangelical Environmental Network
  • Dr. Roberto Hodgson, Director, Multicultural Ministries Church of the Nazarene
  • Dr. Shirley Hoogstra, President, Council of Christian Colleges & Universities
  • Rev. Teresa Hord Owens, General Minister, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Dr. Joel C. Hunter, Faith Community Organizer; Chair, Central Florida Commission on Homelessness; Chair, Community Resource Network
  • Hyepin Im, President and CEO, Faith and Community Empowerment
  • Rev. Dr. Dale T. Irvin, President and Professor of World Christianity, New York Theological Seminary
  • Sister Carol Keehan, DC, President and CEO, Catholic Health Association of the United States
  • Eric LeCompte, Executive Director, Jubilee USA Network
  • Rev. Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita, The Wesleyan Church
  • Mr. John Lyon, President, World Hope International Rev. Carlos Malavé, Executive Director, Christian Churches Together
  • Sister Donna Markham OP, PhD, President and CEO, Catholic Charities
  • Rev. Dr. Walter Arthur McCray, President, National Black Evangelical Association
  • Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO, Church World Service
  • Bishop Vashti McKenzie, 117th Elected and Consecrated Bishop, AME Church
  • Bishop Darin Moore, Presiding Prelate of the Mid-Atlantic Episcopal District, AME Zion Church
  • Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., Co-Convener National African American Clergy Network
  • Rev. F. Salvador Orellana, National Coordinator for Latino Ministries, Intercultural Ministries American Baptist Home Missions Society
  • Rev. Rubén N. Ortiz, Latino Field Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
  • The Most Reverend Richard E. Pates, Roman Catholic Bishop of Des Moines
  • Rev. Dr. James C. Perkins, President, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
  • Rev. Daniel Prieto, M.A.R. Chairman, National Hispanic Commission; Missional Coach & Hispanic Multiplication Coordinator, Foursquare Church
  • Agustin Quiles, National Director for Hispanic Relations, Wycliffe
  • Soong-Chan Rah, Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism, North Park Theological Seminary
  • Ms. Diane E. Randall, Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation
  • Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick, CEO, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Bishop Frank Madison Reid III, Presiding Bishop, AME Ecumenical & Urban Affairs
  • Rev. Amy Reumann, Director of Advocacy, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • Dr. W. Franklin Richardson, Chairman, Conference of National Black Churches
  • Jose Luis (Pepe) Romero, Hispanic Affairs Specialist, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
  • Andrew Ryskamp, Executive Director Emeritus, World Renew
  • Dr. Stephen Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, The Catholic University of America
  • Dr. Ronald Sider, President Emeritus, Evangelicals for Social Action
  • Rev. Arthur Simon, President Emeritus, Bread for the World
  • Dr. T. DeWitt Smith, Co-Convener, National African American Clergy Network
  • Rev. Eldridge Spearman, Pastor, Mt. Jezreel Baptist Church, National Baptist Convention, USA. Inc.
  • Gregory E. Sterling, Henry L Slack Dean and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament, Yale Divinity School
  • Ervin R. Stutzman, Executive Director, Mennonite Church USA
  • Rev. Lori Tapia, National Pastor for Hispanic Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Rev. Adam Taylor, Executive Director, Sojourners
  • Dr. Steven Timmermans, Executive Director, Christian Reformed Church in North America
  • Bishop Joseph W. Walker, III, International Presiding Bishop, Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International, Inc.
  • Rev. Jim Wallis, President and Founder, Sojouners
  • Colin P. Watson, Director of Ministries and Administration, Christian Reformed Church in North America
  • Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Convener, National African American Clergy Network; President, Skinner Leadership Institute
  • Rev. Jim Winkler, President and National Secretary, National Council of Churches
  • Bishop Jesse Yañez, Director, Church of God of the Prophecy N.A.

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